Doodling My Way Into Winter

My sketching over the past month has been mostly doodles done out of desperation and then only when my hands are working.  I’ve put my free time to good use, however, revisiting art books I’ve wanted to re-read.  Don’t you find that second reads of art books reveal information you didn’t get the first time through?  I sure do, particularly if I wait several months worth of sketching experience before the re-read.

Anyways, it never seems that doodles are worthy of blog posts so my posts have become fewer and farther between.  I did get out a couple times this week, though, so I’m reporting that I finally got to sketch in a more formal way, though ‘formal’ is exaggerated here.

My first stop was the 3d mask exhibit I talked about at the beginning of the month.  I went there with our sketching group and while my hands were less than happy about it, I drew one of the masks.  I confess to a certain frustration drawing these masks and I think I’ve figured out why.  I’ve been trying to turn them into a real face, when in fact they are somewhat alien because the tops of the head are removed, the eyes closed, and in general they’re just too smooth everywhere.  So, I figured I’d go with the flow on this one, producing the alien creature that it is, exaggerating it a bit with watercolor.  The mask is lit from below and excepting that it’s white rather than blue, this is pretty much what it looks like.  Kinda spooky don’t you think?

Once  a year we all get together and draw holiday cards in one form or another.  This year was no exception though I confess that I wasn’t much in a holiday mood that day.  It was a lot of fun, though, because there were a bunch of us creating art so I could see what everyone else was doing while I puttered away myself.  For this I always use Strathmore’s Watercolor Cards, which are convenient.  I never did get around to writing the obligatory Merry Christmas or Happy New Year on them.

Practice Makes Perfect… and Fun

I’m not a sports guy.  I don’t watch football, basketball or hockey.  Heck, I don’t even know the rules of hockey.  But baseball…ah…baseball.  I’m a sucker for baseball.  I do limit my watching to one team – the Toronto Blue Jays, but that’s 162 x 3 hours of TV watching from April thru September.  Lots of potential sketching practice time.

While I watch these games I use my laptop to keep up with email, write blog posts, and read other people’s blogs.  I also sketch, and sketch, and sketch.  Often I’ll just practice cross-hatching, drawing long, straight parallel lines, or testing pens.  I draw countless ellipses, draw odd shapes, shading them into 3-dimensional existence, and anything else I can think of.  Not only is it fun, it’s how I’m learning to draw.  I don’t think one can learn to draw by drawing final, formal sketches any more than a person learns to play piano by playing piano concertos.  You’ve got to practice the various parts of art, the movements of the hand, the proportions of things.

I’ve always done this sort of practice on photocopy paper, ultimately throwing the results away.  But I’ve bought a cheap Strathmore, 400 series “Drawing” book for this practice.  The other night I put my laptop next to me on the sofa, did an image Google search on “people” and started quick-sketching people from the images.  I thought I’d share the results.  Certainly nothing special and evidence that I need the practice, but it might be something you want to try as it’s lots of fun and certainly good practice.

Done with a Tombow 2558  HB pencil

Done with a Tombow 2558 HB pencil

Quebec City’s Harbor Is Busy Again

For the last couple weeks, all the pleasure boats that have spent the winter in their cocoons have been carried, one-by-one, down a ramp and plunked into Bassin Louise, the protected harbor for pleasure boats in Quebec City.  There is a lock that allows boats to come and go in spite of the significant tides of the St. Lawrence River and just outside those locks is where all the tugboats are, that serve the larger ship traffic along the St. Lawrence and/or are loaded/unloaded in Quebec City.

I walked down to this area today and there was a spring (pun intended) in my step.  I have to say it…I just have to.  No way I can avoid it.  It’s just got to come out.  IT WAS WARM, WARM, WARM today.  I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt as I skipped along the St. Charles River.  I was a happy sketcher.  Did I mention that it’s finally WARM in Quebec City?

There was only one glitch in the day.  I sat down to draw a small tugboat that I hadn’t seen before.  Most of our tugs are what one might call ‘ocean tugs’  – really big, really powerful tugboats.  This one was much smaller.  It was cute.  When I was a kid I had a book whose main character was L’il Toot.  He was a brightly colored tugboat with big eyes on the front of his cabin. This tugboat reminded me of him.  But when I opened my sketching bag I found that I’d forgotten to stuff my sketchbook into it.  I did have a small Strathmore “Drawing” book, however, so I did this quick sketch of my tugboat as it poked its head above the harbor wall.  Did I mention that it was WARM today?  In spite of the lack of a real sketchbook, this was a great day.

Strathmore 4x6 "Drawing" book, Uniball Signo UM-151 pen

Strathmore 4×6 “Drawing” book, Uniball Signo UM-151 pen

Biding My Time Til Spring

Tomorrow is April Fool’s Day but Quebec City is still waiting for spring.  It is the case that Mother Nature gave us clear skies today but, like my attitude toward politicians, I’ve taken a ‘fool me once…’ point of view of Ma-dam Nature.

And so as I wait for her to stop playing with my sensibilities, I’ve look for places and things to draw.  I’m not much of a people sketcher as they just don’t interest me very much but what’cha gonna do when the snow is falling and the temps are below freezing.  I quick-sketch people.  It’s fun but the results somewhat embarrassing (grin).

2014-03-27PianistHere’s a couple sketches from a recital I attended recently.  They were done in a Strathmore ‘toned gray’ sketchbook with a Pilot Prera.  If there’s shading it was done with waterbrushes with a few drops of ink added to them.

The larger one was an attempt to capture audience and musician but time ran out and the cellist walked away before I was done so he and the cello remain unfinished.  Such is life of a real-time sketcher.


2014-03-27Trombonist's legsI include this tiny sketch because I thought it funny.  Not sure what I was thinking.  Well, actually I do.  These legs were attached to a trombone player and between her being short, the woman sitting in front of me being tall and her music stand, these legs were my only connection to the “action”, seen between two member of the audience.

A couple days later we were invited to a read-thru rehearsal for a play by the Quebec Art Company.  Yvan does the marketing posters for them.  I found this a near-impossible challenge as the actors were moving around on stage almost constantly and my people art ‘vocabulary’ is insufficient to draw people who are changing their positions every few seconds.  I took advantage of one guy who was supposed to be dead (spoiler alert – he wasn’t) and drew him but, as you can see, I resorted to drawing some of the props.  I did a fantastic chair but I won’t bore you with chair and sofa drawings (grin).   These were done in a Stillman & Birn Alpha (10×7) using Pilot Prera and Lexington Gray.

2014-03-30LendMeATenorAll in all, it’s all good.  The more I move pointy devices across paper, the better I get at it.  Working at different speeds is like cross-training and all speeds seem to benefit.  Still, I’m hoping spring comes “real soon.”

Mastering Brush Pens: Not Yet!

My typical sketching tool is a fine nib fountain pen filled with waterproof ink.  I like it because I’m not an artist, I just draw stuff and I like the detail a fine nib permits.  I often add color to my sketches by using them like a kid uses crayons, keeping the color inside the lines.  In the two years I’ve been trying to learn to draw, I’ve ignored all of the nuance of ‘art’ and concentrated solely on line and contour.

But winter is encroaching on Quebec and that means I’ve got to give up my daily wandering and location sketching.  It’s just too darn cold.  So I’ve decided to spend the winter sketching in museums AND trying to learn more about alternative approaches to sketching.

To that end I bought a Pilot cartridge brush pen.  These come with soft and hard tips and I bought the soft one.  I also have a Pentel brush pen and I love doodling with it but it’s so soft that I find it impossible for my shaky old hand to control.  The Pilot soft tip is a bit stiffer than the Pentel but I still have a hard time controlling it.  I’m interested, though, in producing sketches with varied line width and in using washable inks to provide shading and texture.

2013-11-03PilotBrushPen_72When I received the brush pen, and using the Pilot cartridge that came with it, I drew this little sketch from my imagination and while sitting at my desk.  I was pleased with the result and I could control the pen adequately, though my penchant for thin lines raised its ugly head and gave me some frustration.  I used a waterbrush to pull pigment from the lines, some drawn specifically for that purpose.

2013-11-04PilotBrushPen_72Then it got ‘warm’ here.  I think we got up to 5C one day so I went out sketching.  I found it much harder to control the brush pen while balancing the sketchbook on my knee, mostly because in addition to directing line creation, the pen is very sensitive to pressure and maintaining that to achieve thin lines was hard for me.  Again, I used the waterbrush and things went ‘ok’ – good enough to suggest that with practice I might be able to master the tool.

Then I decided to add some blue to the building and the ink further exploded in some areas.  Some might see this as ‘artistic.’  My response was “eeeek!”

2013-11-04Kaweco_BernBlack_72I had to feed my penchant for a bit more detail so while I was out I swapped tools.  I have a Kaweco Al-Sport filled with Noodler’s Bernanke Black, a washable ink that dries quickly.  I use it regularly as a writing ink so I thought I’d try it as a sketching tool.  I did this sketch of a downtown building.  Lines are thicker than my norm and they responded well to waterbrush.  I liked the results of this approach – something of a compromise to my typical approach and a more loose sketch.  Lots of potential here, but not a brush pen sketch.

2013-11-07GeraniumPilotBrushPen_72That night I was watching TV and decided to work on control of the brush pen.  I started drawing geranium leaves and, fairly quickly I had a geranium plant.  I felt I was gaining some control over line width, though I had to think about this a lot, which interfered with my ‘seeing’ process.  I guess I’m not good at multi-tasking (grin).  When I added a bit of color I got what I felt was a pleasant bit of washing of the lines by being careful with the brush.

All of these sketches were done in a small (4×6) Strathmore Series 400 drawing pad.  I have not yet used any of these approaches on better quality papers.  I suspect the results will differ but mostly I need to do a couple dozen sketches with the brush pen to see if I can gain better control over it.  What are your experiences with true brush pens (not pointy felt markers like Tombows)?